E-Text Books – Pros & Cons
by Robert Hahn
As you are probably well aware tablets are everywhere these days. In fact a recent survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Live Project recently found that the percentage of adults who own a tablet PC or e-reader nearly doubled during the holiday season. The Pew findings should come as no surprise, considering tablets were among the hottest holiday gifts. As the Associated Press reported last November, tablets were second to clothing as the gifts people most desired during the holiday.
So the writing is on the wall…tablets are here to stay. In K-12 many school districts have been “early adopters” of tablet technology and have implemented pilot programs such as Apple’s iPad. In fact one of my ISD’s is set to implement tablets for all faculty and students district wide. http://www.themonitor.com/articles/mcallen-55972-ipads-isd.html
As I see it there are three primary challenges facing tablet adoption in K-12….Content, Device Cost and Security.
From a content perspective the biggest win and best possible ROI scenario for districts is to replace paper textbooks with interactive electronic versions that can be utilized on handheld devices. Amazon.com for example has utilized this idea with books in general on their successful Kindle platform and more recently the Kindle App (which I use) for Android. School textbooks however have been slow to make this “e-conversion”.
Fortunately it looks like Apple has kicked down the door and is set to launch an e-textbook platform on their devices.
While I’m not a fan of the walled garden approach that Apple uses (I prefer Google’s more “open” approach) I’m excited to see that this is finally happening and hopefully content publishers will realize and demand access to other operating systems and devices. This is the only way to drive down device cost and make this kind of tech the defacto standard in our school systems….certainly a benefit both to our students and to taxpayers pocketbooks. The “Security” challenge is usually the most common objection by parents when implementing any student mobile learning program “how do we keep the kids from playing Angry Birds all day”. Fortunately Sprint has solutions that can easily address this issue on any device…including Wi-Fi tablets.
Please feel free to contact me for more information.
Here are some recent articles discussing the pros and cons of this issue. I’ll post additional information as it becomes available. This is certainly an exciting time to be a student, educator or parent.
Apple’s iBooks Textbooks initiative is a welcome and natural progression
Summary: There has been quite a bit of discussion about the iPad lock in and content control over the Apple iBooks announcement. It makes sense to me and I applaud Apple for their efforts.
It seems there is quite a bit of skepticism and controversy surrounding the new Apple iBooks 2 and Textbooks application and service. Most is centered on the iPad requirement and the control of output from the iBook Author tool. I agree with some of these arguments, but also believe the iBooks 2/Textbooks announcement from yesterday is just one part of the story we will hear from Apple in the near future.
iPad is best choice
All of the tablet sales data shows that there is currently no real competition to the Apple iPad in the tablet form factor so why is there even any controversy about this service, from Apple, being tied just to the iPad? The iPad just works and yet is also extremely powerful. You can go days without charging, use it without worrying about lockups, freezes, or other instability, and experience an enjoyable user interface. As James stated, it is an expensive device that could be broken by kids, but I have also seen kids go out of their way to keep their iPod touch devices safe too and can tell you it is unlikely they will treat an iPad just like a paper textbook.
What other tablets or computer systems do you want to see this Apple Textbooks support appear in? A laptop with a keyboard doesn’t come close to modeling a book experience and in most cases is a clunky system to use for a textbook alternative. It seems to me it would also be easier to copy and paste book content if these textbooks were on a Mac, which won’t appeal to publishers who are nervous enough about going digital. Something like the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet would be nice to use for such a project, but it seems to me that this is where Amazon fell down and gave away this potential market to Apple. Android tablets are not being readily adopted and do not offer the same experience as the iPad. I love using eInk for longer term ebook reading, but eInk is not even as good as paper textbooks and don’t improve the textbook experience.
Maybe Apple will launch a new iPad model
Many of us who have smaller 7 inch form factor tablets know this form is more portable and it is easier to protect a smaller display. We may see Apple release a small form factor iPad with a more rugged design as they see how well this new Textbooks service does. The lowest cost iPad 2 is $500 and while I think that is reasonable to protect my daughters’ backs it is still expensive for school districts to roll out across the entire educational system. I hope we see Apple launch a device in the $300 price range that is optimized for the educational market. We have seen Apple give large education discounts and carry products for the educational market in the past, which is part of the reason I started buying Apple products back in 1989 so maybe we will see them do this with the iPad as well.
Content is not locked in
While I understand the concern about creating a book with the iBooks Author tool that Apple rejects, we can look at the apps they reject and have a good idea of what type of content will likely be rejected. I highly doubt that legitimate textbook material assembled into textbooks for students will be rejected while those focused on controversial topics may be rejected. You can also take that same content and publish it in other formats for other platforms, but if the iPad success is any indication of the future there really is no other competitive tablet to the iPad.
I applaud Apple for stepping up to the plate to try to help out teachers, students, and publishers as they look to bring modern technology to the classroom. They are offering the Author tool for free and they should be able to get a piece of the pie for books sold through their store. If they take their traditional 30%, then publishers are still getting 70% of the profit which is much more than they get now with traditional paper publishing.
Why the Apple textbook program will never work
Summary: The Apple textbook initiative announced recently is dead in the water due to one condition hidden in the details.
Apple stirred up a lot of folks with the recent entry into the school textbook business. The combination of the new iBooks 2 app for the iPad, the iBooks Author app to create interactive textbooks, and partnership with major textbook publishers have cemented Apple’s foray into the major publishing venture that handles textbooks. A lot of analysis has already examined this effort to determine how likely it might be to become a major factor in the textbook industry. All complicated reasoning aside, there is one simple detail that guarantees school districts cannot ever participate in the Apple textbook program.
My colleague Ed Bott has done a thorough job tearing apart the Apple licensing agreements and technical details that turn the iBooks textbook program into a “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement”. He’s also looked into the overlooked fact that Apple has quietly shot down the defined ePub standard through its implementation. It is worth checking out the following coverage to get a thorough understanding of what Apple has undertaken, and how it affects all of those participating in the new textbook business.
- Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement
- One thing may rock the Apple iPad for education scheme: Kids
- Amazon: “Primed” to disrupt Apple’s textbook plans?
- Apple announces iBooks 2, Textbooks, iBooks Author
- The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple’s iPad-based textbooks
- Apple’s iBooks Textbooks initiative is a welcome and natural progression
- Apple’s textbook plan’s biggest flaw is that it’s tied to the iPad
I am not an expert on the complicated textbook industry in the U. S., but some research into Apple’s terms and conditions of the iBookstore/ textbook handling turned up what I believe will prevent it from going anywhere. Textbooks will be sold to individual school districts through a volume purchase program from Apple.
The school district sets up a volume account with Apple, and purchases “volume vouchers” to handle textbooks for the organization. These vouchers can be in whatever amount desired, and are not tied to any particular textbooks nor volume of books. The definition of volume vouchers from Apple:
Volume Vouchers are physical cards in denominations of $100, $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000 that can be used to purchase apps and books in the Volume Purchase Program Education Store. They cannot be used to purchase apps or books directly from the App Store or the iBookstore. The cards are shipped via Federal Express or UPS, so they can be easily tracked. You should receive your Volume Vouchers three to five business days after ordering them.
If I was an administrator of a school district looking into the Apple textbooks, this would scare the hell out of me. Thousands of budget dollars are tied to what is basically an open credit card for buying stuff from Apple. The accounting nightmare to protect district assets is tremendous.
Once the school district purchases a volume voucher, the real fun begins. While the purchase pool is intended to sell textbooks, they are not sold to the organization that funded the voucher. The purchasing organization is given codes to distribute to end users for purchasing textbooks from the district pool. According to Apple, each textbook purchase is handled individually, and is between Apple and the end user making the purchase through a private Apple account.
In the case of books, the student as the end user must redeem the book using his or her own Apple ID, and the student owns the book.
This alone is a deal breaker with federal and state funding that goes toward funding school districts, and removes any overseeing organization from ownership of any textbooks, even though they are paying for them all. Apple has created a system that cannot fly in a world where everything must be accounted for to the penny, and school districts are trying to stretch budgets to the limit. The system pays for everything, but the end user/student “buys” it from Apple. This will not fly on any level, as it means that purchased textbooks cannot be reused from year to year. They “belong” to the individual student, forever.